London has cleaned up its act, in terms of ye olde air polluters, and so the old nickname “The Big Smoke” no longer applies literally. It has been relegated to a fond and hazy moniker by people who aren’t old enough to remember breathing in coal-fired chimney smoke mixed with drizzle. Which makes London a pretty great place to spend time in if you plan to breathe while seeing the sights.
Since London is no longer in need of the nickname, I propose that they loan it to Oslo, which, even though I didn’t see any coal-fire residue around, has enough cigarette smokers for this pot to call that kettle black.
As an American, I’ve been done a solid by a Congress that used to actually do some work, sort of, when they passed the Clean Air Act, or some such statute, that has made not breathing in someone else’s cigarette smoke a right guaranteed me by law. Perfect example of Congressional awesomeness.
Smokers in the USA have long been unable to smoke their cigarettes indoors, except at bars. Then us victorious non-smokers took over more and more territory for ourselves, like cruise ship passengers claiming all the deck chairs. There were fines for smoking near doorways to public buildings, so smokers would huddle together across the street from those places, sucking butts like Tootsie Pops. Next, we claimed the bars themselves smoke-free. I flat-out loved it and though I know a few smokers who complain that they are treated like criminals due to their nicotine habit, most smokers (and I honestly don’t know that many nowadays) are a pretty polite bunch for a gang of criminals. Probably their feelings are hurt. Mostly I don’t care about smokers’ feelings, at least their feelings about smoking, but I don’t care in a pretty benign way because they aren’t bothering me.
In Oslo though, I had hate in my heart for them. Because they were everywhere. I found myself scowling at all those Norwegian smokers, which means I scowled constantly, which gave me a headache and made me look like a severe, 19th century schoolmarm, which pissed me off further because that was not my go-to, go-with-the-flow, I-can-dig-what-you’re-putting-down traveler look. Osloensers inhaled their nicotine and tar all day and night, which would be fine if they simply didn’t exhale. It turned out they exhaled as much as they inhaled, which made the smoke impossible to avoid, as were the cigarette butts, which were also everywhere. That bugged me too. Mostly because I had to let go of my illusion of a sparkling clean Scandinavia. At least in Oslo.
And lest you think that my only impression of Oslo was negative because of the smokers, don’t worry: I plan to complain about some other stuff too. Stay tuned…